A Father’s Last Request
“When the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him… ‘Do not bury me in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place’” (Gen. 47:29–30).- Genesis 47:29–31
Of all the episodes in Jacob’s life, the author of Hebrews chooses the patriarch’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh on his deathbed (Gen. 47:29–48:22) to exemplify the faith that all of us should emulate (Heb. 11:21). He does not choose Israel’s wrestling with God (Gen. 32:22–32) or his dedication of himself to the service of Yahweh (28:10–22), two other events that could easily have been selected to illustrate faith. Of course, from a divine perspective the author of Hebrews had to select the deathbed blessing because that is what the Spirit prompted him to write. Still, from our perspective there are many other events he could have chosen, and so we ask, why choose this one?
There seems to be at least two reasons why Hebrews selects this event from the patriarch’s life. First, it occurred at the end of Jacob’s life when he was old and frail (47:29; 48:1). Because of his health, there was nothing that Jacob could do except rely wholly on the Lord at this last stage of his life. Unlike other events in his life, there was no possibility for Jacob to lean on His own wits; he had to throw himself entirely on God if he was going to finish the race and transfer the patriarchal blessing to his sons.
Secondly, this episode at the end of Jacob’s life confirms the future-oriented character of his trust in God. Faith looks to the future, knowing that the Lord will surely do all that He has pledged to do (Heb. 11:13–16). In having Joseph swear to bury him in Canaan (Gen. 47:29–31), Jacob confirmed his belief that God would bring Him out of Egypt (46:4). By faith he looked to the day when Yahweh would keep His promise in its totality, and he knew blessing would come upon his people if they would trust in God’s abundant grace and obey His commands in the Promised Land (28:10–17; Deut. 30:1–10). Burial there manifested Jacob’s trust in God for such blessing even in death. In the light of the full witness of Scripture, we know this abundant life prefigured in Canaan comes after the grave when believers are raised to live in a new Promised Land — a new earth free from the curse of evil (Rev. 21).
John Calvin offers comments about the patriarchs, saying that “not even death itself could extinguish the power of their faith.” All of us must look beyond the end of our own lives and trust God to keep all of His promises to us and to our children. In these uncertain times we alone have true hope, for our Father will set all things right, and in Christ Jesus He has already begun to do so. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
Passages for Further Study
Heb. 1; 9:27–28